Nation special report
In first-ever report, UN chief calls for major probe into Kashmir abuses, Pakistan welcomes COI proposal to establish a probe commission, India rejects report, separatists, activists laud findings
NEW YORK: The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights The United Nations (UN) human rights chief on Thursday called for a major investigation into abuses in Kashmir, as his office released its 49-page first-ever report on alleged rights violations committed by both India and Pakistan in the disputed territory. In its title, the UNHR writes; “Report on the situation of human rights in Kashmir: Developments in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir from June 2016 to April 2018, and General Human Rights Concerns in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit, Baltistan” that means accusing India and Pakistan both of human rights violations in Kashmir and GB. UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra’adAl Hussein said Thursday he would urge the Human Rights Council, which opens a new session next week, “to consider establishing a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to conduct a comprehensive indep e n d e n t international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.”
A COI is one of the UN’s highest-level probes, generally reserved for major crises like the conflict in Syria. The report, which the UN said was the first-of-its-kind for Kashmir, highlights “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”, the rights of office said in a press release. The findings come after months of deadly clashes along Line of Control. The report said that Zeid met with representatives of both governments following an upsurge of violence in July 2016, triggered by India’s killing of 22- year-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
Concerned by what the UN termed “large and unprecedented” protests after Wani’s death, Zeid asked for “unconditional access” to Kashmir, but neither government agreed. His office then began remote monitoring of the region, ultimately producing a report covering alleged abuses between January 2016 and April of this year.
The report, which focuses mainly on Indian administered Kashmir, accuses Indian troops of being responsible for an estimated 145 unlawful killings, far surpassing the 20 people estimated to have been killed by militant groups during that period. “It is essential that the Indian authorities take immediate and effective steps to avoid a repetition of the numerous examples of excessive use of force by security forces in Kashmir,” Zeid was quoted as saying. Turning to Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), the report identifies “a range of human rights abuses”, but notes they “are of a different calibre or magnitude and of a more structural nature”. The rights office also said that restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly made it difficult to obtain information about conditions in AJK. Pakistan should “end the misuse of anti-terror legislation to persecute those engaging in peaceful political and civil activities and those who express dissent,” the UN said.
Pakistan welcomes COI proposal
The Foreign Office (FO) in a press release said Pakistan “welcomes the proposal by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish a Commission of Inquiry for international investigation into human rights violations” in IHK.
“This proposal is consistent with Pakistan’s several calls to this effect since 2016, even as India has continued to ignore legitimate demands for probe into gross and systematic violations, including pellet guns, excessive use of force, arbitrary arrest and detentions as well as continued sexual violence as part of overall impunity enjoyed by Indian security forces,” the handout read.
The report’s main focus is on IHK, the FO noted, and the “contents, scale and the narrative of killings, maiming, abuse and impunity articulated in the report is a reaffirmation of what Pakistan has long highlighted for the international community.” “References to human rights concerns in AJK and Gilgit Baltistan should in no way be construed to create a false sense of equivalence with the gross and systematic human rights violations in IHK, the FO cautioned.
India rejects report
Meanwhile, the Indian Government has rejected the report on rights violations in Kashmir, calls it “fallacious, tendentious and motivated”. In a strong reaction, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) said the report is “overtly prejudiced” and seeksto build a “false narrative”.
The report violated the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, it said. “India rejects the report. It is fallacious, tendentious and motivated. We question the intent in bringing out such a report,” the MEA said. It added that the report is a selective compilation of largely unverified information. “The report violates India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. Pakistan is in illegal and forcible occupation of a part of the Indian state through aggression,” the MEA said.
Separatists, activists laud
Moderate separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said the report was long overdue. Separatists and civil society members have welcomed the report detailing alleged rights violations on both sides of the line of control and called for an international inquiry into the issue. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq shared a link of the UN report summary, which emphasised on the use of “excessive force (by security forces) that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries” on India’s side of Kashmir. “Welcome the first-ever UN report on human rights violations in #Kashmir.
Recognition of the grave HR violations by the state taking place in Kashmir for past 30 years in particular and calling for inquiry into them was long overdue. UN has a moral obligation towards the people of Kashmir (sic),” Farooq tweeted soon after the report emerged.
The 49-page documents details human rights violations and abuses on both sides of the line of control, highlighting a “situation of chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”. The report focused particularly on the alleged human rights violations committed in Jammu and Kashmir from July 2016 (when widespread protests erupted in the Valley after the killing of Hizbul militant Burhan Wani) to April 2018. It accused Indian security forces of using excessive force, leading to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries. Citing civil society sources, the document estimated that up to 145 civilians were shot dead by security personnel from July 2016 to March 2018 while 20 others were killed by armed militants in the same period. Khuram Parvez, programme coordinator at the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, termed the report as “path-breaking”.
“This report is historical & symbolically a huge step leading to an acknowledgement of the Indian government’s role in massive human rights abuses. After UN resolutions on Kashmir, this report is an important addition,” Parvez wrote on Facebook.
The report listed the “impunity with which human rights are violated” and “lack of access to justice” as the key human rights challenges faced by Jammu and Kashmir. According to it, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) gives security forces “virtual immunity” against prosecution for human rights violations, and the central government has not granted permission for “even a single” security personnel to be prosecuted in the last 28 years.
UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said he will urge the UN Human Rights Council to consider establishing a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent investigation into allegations of human rights violations in the state. “The people of Kashmir thank the UN, especially the bold efforts of its human rights commissioner Mr Zeid Ra’adAl Hussain, for its support to right ofself determination and in preparing the report and making it public. Hope an enquirer commission is set up and announced soon by the UN,” Farooq further tweeted